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Brazil, 19th Century


The third period of Brazilian history began in 1808 with the arrival of the Portuguese Court in Brazil and it ended in 1889 when the empire was dissolved and a federal republic was established. Napoleon invaded Spain and after being successful in subduing the Spanish. In 1806 he proclaimed the "Continental System" which imposed an economic blockade on Britain. Portugal faced a dilemma as it looked to Britain for the preservation of its independence and its trade also relied on good relations with Britain.

Dom João IV 1808-1821. He succeeded as the regent of Portugal in 1792 when his mother Queen María I became insane [and] made an agreement according to which the British would provide protection to him and his family in fleeing from Portugal and Napoleon's invading armies. The royal family and the court fled to Salvador in Brazil, in 1808 and the court was established in Bahí a. It later moved to Río. The presence of the royal family in Brazil gave the independence movement distinctive characteristics. Unlike the neighboring Spanish colonies where there was anarchy at the time of independence, Brazil had a relatively smooth transition of power. The greatest issue in this process at independence was who would govern the Spanish American countries and what would be the system of government in the post colonial period.

Dom João issued a decree which was significant in the sense that it ended the monopoly of Portugal on the commerce of Brazil. This measure increased the potential of Brazilian trade with other nations. Dom João moved his court to Río de Janeiro and introduced many liberal reforms to encourage the expansion of agriculture, industry and transportation. The establishment of the Bank of Brazil was also part of this program. Many of the measures like founding a university were opposed by his Portuguese courtiers, as they wanted to maintain the superiority of Portugal over its dependency. On December 16, 1815, Brazil ceased to be a colony of Portugal and its status was raised to that of an equal partner in the "United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and Algarves."

He became King João VI in 1816 upon the death of his mother María I and established an absolutist monarchy. Dom João's reign brought about scientific, artistic and literary awakening in Brazil. He carried out successful military operations in the North and in the South.

Brazil became increasingly dependent on the British navy and negotiated treaties which limited production at home and encouraged import of manufactured goods. The tariffs on goods imported from Britain were reduced under the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation. According to the Treaty of Alliance and Friendship, the Inquisition was revoked and a restriction was imposed on slave trade.

The republican revolution that broke out in Pernambuco in 1817 against Dom João's absolutist rule was suppressed but this did not crush the desire for independence and republicanism.

Dom João appointed his son Dom Pedro I the prince regent when he went to Portugal in 1821 to deal with the political unrest there. He advised his son not to resist the independence movement. It was apparent that Brazil was to be subjugated to the position of a colony by the Cortes of Lisbon but this reactionary policy was opposed by the liberals who advocated the separation of Brazil from Portugal. In October 1821 the Cortes ordered Dom Pedro I to leave Brazil. He refused to play a subservient role and disobeyed the Portuguese parliament. In January 1822, he formed a new ministry and on Feburary 1822 he passed a decree stating that the laws of the Cortes of Lisbon would not be effective in Brazil from then on. In September, 1822 Dom Pedro I declared Brazil independent of Portuguese rule and later on in December, 1822 proclaimed himself the emperor. The transition of power was not entirely peaceful as there was some opposition in the northern provinces in the Cisplatine Provinces in the south. The Brazilian fleet which was organized by the British forced the Portuguese troops in 1823 to surrender their strongholds along the coast of Brazil. Diplomatic recognition to Brazil was extended by the United States in 1824. Britain and Portugal recognised it as an independent state in 1825.

There were two political factions in Brazil in the post independence era, the Conservatives and the Liberals. The Conservatives supported a strong monarchy which according to them would ensure stability. They maintained that the absence of a monarchy had caused anarchism in Spanish America in its struggle for independence. José Bonifacio, a powerful figure in politics led this faction. The liberals were led by Gonçalves Ledo and they advocated a republic instead of a monarchy. Pedro used his troops to suppress those who wanted to make laws to curtail his powers as an emperor. The new constitution which was announced in 1824 supported a conservative absolutist monarchy. The state religion was Roman Catholicism, but tolerance was shown to other sects. The powers of the emperor were categorized as the fourth branch of the government or the "moderating power."

The new constitution, the heavy taxes and submission to Río caused a revolt in 1824 in Pernambuco which was joined by other northeastern provinces like Ceará, Río Grande do Norte and Paraíba. They established a republican constitution but the rebellion was crushed.

Dom Pedro was not popular among his subjects. He preferred advisers who were born in Portugal. He interfered in the affairs of Uruguay and used his forces to prevent it from gaining independence. He mismanaged the financial affairs of the country which finally forced him to abdicate in April 1831, in favor of his five year old son Dom Pedro de Alcantara.

Dom Pedro II 1840-1889. After ten years of the regency, from 1831 to 1840, Dom Pedro II at fifteen years of age was proclaimed as the constitutional emperor of Brazil. The regent was unable to control the turmoil and, as a result rebellions went on from 1835 to 1845 in provinces such as Para, Bahía, Maranhao, Río Grande do Sul and Río de Janeiro.

There were three significant political parties in Brazil. The Restoration Party wanted to bring the Portuguese back into power in Brazil. The Moderate Party, since it stood for the rural upper class, favored the preservation of the status quo by supporting a strong monarchy. The Exalted Party advocated to replace the monarchy with a federal republic. The military and other elements with their divisive activities created a great deal of disorder and carried out rebellions to undermine the authority of the regent. These turbulent conditions forced Dom Pedro II to ascend the throne in 1841 at the age of fifteen. His reign lasted till 1889 and it was known as the Golden Age of Brazil. He used the immense powers vested in him by his position, cautiously and was able to create peaceful conditions which contrasted with those prevailing in post-colonial Spanish America. He enforced the parliamentary system in the true sense. Political power alternated between the Liberals and the Conservatives and the ideals of federalism and republicanism took root in this period.

Economic prosperity was brought about by the increase in sugar and cotton exports. In 1850 Brazil abolished the slave trade and encouraged foreign immigration for the purpose of having labor to work on the coffee plantations. Coffee was the major source of income in the 1870s and the 1880s as Brazil was the chief producer and exporter of this crop.

Development of communications and transportation in the form of telegraph and railroads, streetcars and the transatlantic cable connection between Brazil and Western Europe took place during the reign of Pedro II.

Brazil had expansionistic designs on the territories of its neighbors Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. It sometimes interfered in Uruguayan affairs to curb the influence of Argentina in that country. From 1865-1870, Brazil joined by Argentina and Uruguay, fought Paraguay in the "War of the Triple Alliance," because all of these three countries feared Paraguayan territorial ambitions and because Brazil wanted to collect reparations from Uraguay.

Although Brazil won the war, it had to suffer the consequences in the form of a shattered economy caused by foreign debts and the emergence of the military as a major force in the politics of the country. The armed forces started dominating politics and criticized the emperor's administration and undermined his position. The end of the war unleashed forces like the liberal and republican movements, glorified the military and advocated abolition which threatened the monarchy.

The decline of the empire started with the issue of slavery. Brazil had failed to honor promises of ending the slave trade. Britain passed the Aberdeen Bill in 1845 to end the slave trade which strained the relations between Brazil and Britain. In 1864 ,under mounting pressure from domestic as well as British abolitionists the emperor supported the "law of free birth." The government issued a decree in 1887 that forbade the recovery of runaway slaves.

The "Golden Law" of 1888 was passed by Princess Isabel, the regent in the emperor's absence. This law abolished slavery without any compensation to the slave owners. The emperor lost the support of the slave owners who lost 700,000 slaves in this process.

Other factors also contributed to the overthrow of the monarchy. When the emperor refused to obey a papal bull in 1864 according to which Catholics could not belong to Masonic lodges, this created a gulf between the church and the empire. The military favored a republic and interfered in political affairs, leading to the deterioration of the relations between the empire and the military. Matters came to a head when a liberal, Alfonso Celso, was appointed as prime minister. His reforms threatened to cut the size of the military. In November 1889, Marshal Fonseca led an uprising and the republic was proclaimed. Dom Pedro II and the royal family fled to France.


Bernstein, Harry. Modern And Contemporary Latin America. New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1952.

Bethell, Leslie. The Cambridge History of Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Burns, Bradford E. Latin America: A Concise Interpretive History. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972.

Nyrop, Richard F. Brazil: A Country Study. 1983.

James, G. Herman. Brazil After A Century of Independence. New York: The Macmillian Company, 1925.

Roett, Riordan. Brazil In The Sixties. Missouri: Western Publishing Co., Hannibal, 1972.